Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 23, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 23, 2017




The Bible Christians had been active in Plymouth since before the 1820s and meetings were held at first in a room in Willow Street and eventually in a sail loft over a tin shop on the Parade.  They worshipped there for about twelve years until in 1835, tired of the room and the access to it up a narrow and ill-lit pole staircase, they courageously decided to build their own chapel.  The site chosen was on the western side of what was then known as Old Church Lane, now Catherine Street, where the Mayor and Commonalty owned a tenement in which lived a widow by the name of Hannah Gilbert.  Luckily the house and grounds to the north of it were also in the hands of the Corporation, who administered it on behalf of the Joan Bennett Trust for the benefit of the poor at Maker in Cornwall.

Progress was slow, however, for it was not until 1846 that fifteen men from the congregation formed themselves into a body of trustees responsible for the purchase of the land and the erection of the chapel.   They were neither wealthy nor learned men -- three masons, three shoemakers, a labourer, a weaver, a soap-boiler, a sugar-refiner, an ironmonger, a brewer and a coal merchant.  The premises were conveyed to them on November 26th 1846 for the price of 500, which was paid by Mr William Henry Breay, a purser, of 1 Morley Place.

The foundation stone was laid by Mr James Thorne on November 24th 1846 and work began immediately on a building 50 feet long by 40 feet wide, with side galleries, to accommodate 550 persons.  A school-room was also to be provided beneath the main hall and would hold 300 children.  The contract price for the construction was 750.  It is said that Mr Henry Mallett, a mason and one of the trustees, made a considerable sum of money for them by selling polished stone hearts made from the chippings of the foundation stone.

A drawing of the Zion Bible Christian Chapel in Catherine Street, Plymouth

The only record of its opening was an announcement in a local weekly newspaper on Saturday August 14th 1847 that 'Zion Chapel, Princess Place: This Chapel, erected for the Bible Christians, is to be opened on Wednesday next.  Three religious services are to be held'.  This makes the opening day August 18th 1847. 

Later, a new school-room was added at a cost of 700, an organ was provided at a cost of 165, a rostrum purchased for 120 and that they acquired four houses in Alvington Street, Coxside, for 1,370, it must have had a thriving congregation.  The Chapel was also renovated in 1906 at a cost of 804.

Before the organ was purchased, singing was accompanied by a flute and bass viol until in December 1858 a harmonium was bought and Brother Tucker was 'affectionately requested' to learn to play it.  The help of Mr Moon the music seller was frequently sought to teach players.

From 1864 onwards there were rumblings about seeking a new site for a chapel but it was not until 1884 that a suitable site was acquired at Greenbank.  The congregation of Zion gave 500 towards its cost even though only 95 members transferred to it when it opened.